THE NEW MAYOR who warned city workers last January that a "new standard" of ethical conduct was on the way now appears to need a refresher course in accountability and openness himself. Mayor Anthony Williams stands accused by the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance of violating city financial disclosure laws. A quicker way to destroy public confidence in the integrity of government is hard to find.

The charge itself is not earth-shattering. Campaign finance director Cecily E. Collier-Montgomery says the mayor violated the law that requires candidates for public office to report any changes in their income within 30 days. The line-crossing occurred, she said, when mayoral candidate Williams failed to disclose two consulting arrangements with city contractors that paid him $40,000 last year. The mayor now has been ordered to show up with his personal financial records at a hearing called for next week by the Campaign Finance Office. The violation could cost him $1,000 in fines.

The damage to the mayor's squeaky-clean reputation could constitute the greater loss. The mayor already has issued an apology for not reporting the consulting income sooner. Now he faces the ignominy of being called on the carpet at a closed hearing to explain and defend his ethical lapses. His misery may not stop there.

Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), chairman of the committee with campaign finance oversight, notes in a June 1 letter to campaign finance officials that then-candidate Williams's July 17, 1998, financial disclosure statement stated "n/a" in response to the question of whether he had a fiduciary relationship with any entity doing business with the D.C. government. Mrs. Patterson points out that candidate Williams was in negotiations with the Arthur Andersen firm as early as June 1998 and was compensated for work with the firm on July 1, 1998, and signed an Arthur Andersen contract on July 10, 1998.

Significantly, the firm was doing business with the D.C. government, she said. "Does this apparent contradiction constitute a `false, misleading or incomplete statement' " and grounds for "civil and criminal prosecution"? she asked. It's an answer the mayor must be sweating.